Humans are not separate from nature, we're part of it.
Life hack: Build community, not just with humans, but with flora, fauna, microbes & all of nature
Hierarchies define our society- not just those that categorize some humans as inherently better than others, but also the hierarchies that assert that humans are the most superior, “sentient” life forms compared to all other living beings. Capitalism/ colonialism function by stripping us from roots, tearing us away from our soil and isolating us from each other so we’re deprived of community- the very thing we need to survive and thrive. Black, Brown, Indigenous cultures (the antithesis of capitalism/ the state) have always valued land, water, air and all of nature for merely existing and forged resilient cultural traditions that involve building equitable partnerships with non-human life forms to sustain ecosystems. Our love transcends not only time (intergenerational) and space, but any arbitrary species boundary.
Today’s newsletter will expose these hierarchies as unnatural and thus, very abolish-able, to inspire us to transform how we approach “community building”. Our liberation lies in us forging non-hierarchical relationships & solidarity, not just with each other but with plants, animals, microbes & all our non-human kin who are also anarchists defending our planet in their own, equally important ways.
P.S. Thank you to the kind souls that pay to support this newsletter, it exists because of you. Your funds will help sustain me & my political work. To upgrade your plan and become a paid subscriber, follow these simple steps.
Also- my calendar availability is updated thru the months of September-November for folks interested in 1 on 1 sessions (sessions with a loved one or partner also an option) to cope with capitalism while working towards dismantling it, address your trauma (systemic & interpersonal) & mental distress thru a political, abolitionist, decolonized framework with alternative community-based/ collectivist solutions, understand neurodiversity by bridging science & social justice and navigate problems + build community by applying political values to your daily life/ relationships.
I plan on doing an open Q&A session in the coming month for folks to familiarize themselves more with my approach because if mainstream therapy and individualistic approaches is normalized, it can be hard to picture what collectivist alternatives look like.
B & I are working on Part II of our “Anarchy & Ecology” series which will explore examples of non-human communities in nature- from microbes to animals & plants- that are diverse, decentralized, equitable and cooperative. Our goal is to show that anarchist solutions to fight oppression are actually inspired by nature itself— & that the first step towards dismantling hierarchies is to humble ourselves as we learn lessons from nature without presuming we know better or more. Looking to the woods is an intentional way of applying political, anarchist values to our daily life. So today, I want to build a case for why this is so important.
These hierarchies are socially constructed by oppressive systems and framed as “natural” because that is the only way workers will be manipulated into thinking that our exploitation is “natural” and by extension “inevitable” or unchangeable. Similarly, individualism is drilled into our minds as “natural”. We’re told that competition is ingrained in all living species and only “the fittest” survive by acting selfishly at the expense of everyone else. In reality, the rich hoard resources and fabricate scarcity to force us to compete against each other for crumbs which breaks class solidarity, making us susceptible to exploitation & manipulation.
This propaganda isn’t just a tool of control to force obedience but it is also a tool of suppression to preemptively snuff out rebellion by killing our imagination. As Mark Fisher says “Capitalist Realism… is more like a pervasive atmosphere, conditioning… the regulation of work and education, acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action.” In simple terms, capitalism and the state cage our minds & enforce mental constraints to prevent us from imagining a world without capitalism and coerce our compliance. This is why political education focuses so much on getting people to question everything that has been framed to us as “natural”, necessary and inevitable such that we can reduce the psychological power these systems have over us to collectively imagine and build alternatives which are very much POSSIBLE. These systems are man-made and thus, they can be torn down to build anew.
Capitalism is modern-day, reformed colonialism in that it has rebranded itself with the help of neoliberalism to present oppression to you as freedom. Instead of just using overt violence to force you to work, covert violence is deployed in the form of propaganda and social conditioning to shape your entire identity and also get you to oppress yourself. In order for us to be able to break from our chains, we have to first identify and truly see the chains for what they are, see our captors for who they are and see that we’ve been caged without consent since birth. Given that this is all we’ve ever known since entering this world, identifying our oppressors or their tools and values is difficult but not impossible. The struggle to do so is in itself liberating in many ways.
Capitalism & the state convince us that some people are inherently smarter, more talented, more capable, more hard working, more deserving than others. We’re told that those who are rewarded with wealth, social status and traditional “success” (even though they are born into it by pure luck) are just better people in every way. We’re told that people are trapped in cycles of poverty because of their laziness, lack of intellect and innate inferiority. We’re told that some people are innately superior and can/ should make decisions for the majority of people who are framed as inferior (i.e. politicians & the model of the nation state where a few control the lives of the many). The people “on top” hoard power and by design, there is no mechanism for anyone on top to be held accountable by those at the bottom (which is why electoral politics is a sham). People point to and scapegoat janitors or anyone working an “unskilled job”, framing them as “cautionary tales” for what will happen to you if you don’t conform, assimilate and do whatever capitalism tells you to do. This sort of fear-based conditioning gets us to want to be better than others when in reality, no one should have to earn the right to live.
It’s all we’ve ever known as individuals but we collectively know alternatives are possible & have existed
The ironic thing about self-appointed supremacy is that humans tend to believe they are all-knowing in some capacity and we’re socialized to believe that “knowing everything” is the mark of a “good person”. This explains why colonial logic cannot fathom that there are many aspects of the universe that we as humans are unable to fully understand. The pursuit of understanding the unknown with the scientific method should be driven by total openness to whatever the observations reveal and even then— conclusions should be drawn that make the most sense knowing that they may be debunked in the future in light of new observations. The scientific method is really about accepting the complexities of the universe with humility. However, when oppression comes into the picture, confirmation bias is exceedingly common. As in, people perceive the world, even new observations or information, through the lens of their pre-existing biases even if it doesn’t add up or make much sense. This is why we may initially believe hierarchies are natural in some way- not because we critically interrogated a plethora of information and sought answers to understand nature with an open mind- but because it’s all we’ve ever known.
Hierarchies aren’t universal- humans have existed without them & we already oppose them in many ways
There are many obvious inconsistencies with the assumption that hierarchies are natural. If they are natural, they’d be universal and they are not, including in humans. Many human societies have existed without social hierarchical “order” or power stratification in the traditional sense. Furthermore, if they were so natural, they should be something we universally desire and gravitate towards when in fact many don’t and we rebel against hierarchies our whole lives in big and small ways without even being fully aware. Think about it- haven’t you intrinsically disobeyed some form of authority before? Have you pushed back against someone who is trying to make decisions for you or control you? Have you held contempt for someone who leveraged power over you? In fact, all over the political spectrum- people show widespread dissatisfaction with some or all aspects of work, government obligations like taxes, bureaucracy, etc.
We look to hierarchies because we’ve been deprived off autonomy and instead told to look to “authority figures” to tell us what to do.
K-12 education instills us with values of capitalism and functions as a factory to produce “good workers” but it doesn’t teach us knowledge needed to build relationships, exist in community, feel/ process our complex emotions, practice accountability etc because those are tools of liberation. Hierarchies are purposely constructed all around us. They make it seem like decision-making should “naturally” be in the hands of a few and that it’s always been this way. We are rarely even asked for consent in this society- the greatest form of this being that we’re born without consent in a society where we’re not guaranteed the basic resources needed for survival which is the bare minimum.
The biggest proof for why hierarchies are unnatural is how much it takes for oppressors to enforce them. Capitalisms has to indoctrinate, manipulate and control us from the first day of our lives till the last with threats of violence eternally hanging over our heads. Regardless, empires can never manage to successfully maintain oppression for too long before they are inevitably toppled by popular uprisings, armed rebellion and gradual micro level changes in relational dynamics that mobilize communities. Something that is natural shouldn’t be this unsustainable. People that are not controlled and organized by external authority do not inevitably turn to inventing their own hierarchies.
“Philosophical hierarchies of the natural world are often anthropocentric, with humans regarded as superior on the basis of possessing ‘uniquely human’ characteristics. Non-humans are situated below humans because they ‘lack’ such attributes. An example from antiquity is the ‘great chain of being’. Reasoning humans are at the top of the chain, followed by animals incapable of reasoning, and insentient plants (Hall 2011). It is a feature of such hierarchies, that they are associated with claims that non-human are purely resources for humans. Lower in the hierarchy of mind and presence, plants and animals are presumed to have no purpose of their own and so their existence is entirely subverted to human ends. This enforces the binary dualism of humans/nature – one existing solely as an instrument for the other (Plumwood 2002). It is also a feature of such hierarchies that human ‘superiority’ is based upon a partisan assessment made by human beings (Taylor 1981). Humans are only superior because they deem themselves to be so.” - Matthew Hall, 2011
Our survival is dependent on everyone from other humans to single celled-microbes & plants
We would not be alive on this planet without the intricate, complex and equally important contributions of many life forms. The symbiotic microbes in our gut are essential for us to digest our food, protect us from infections by pathogens, have well-established control over so many of our bodily functions and emotions and have functions yet to be uncovered or many we may never be able to wrap our mind around. Plants are the only reason our atmosphere has oxygen for us to breathe. The time, energy and labor of many life forms goes into producing a single grain of the food we consume- and what is hurting our planet is how these natural ecological processes have been hijacked and commodified by oppressive systems. If we step back for a minute- we’ll realize that nothing about us is “self” made in the whole sense. Every idea we’ve ever had is attached to someone else- either because we learned it or we were inspired by interacting with other components of our ecosystem. Our personality and evolving behavioral patterns are shaped by many components of our ecosystem. It takes a moment of self-reflection for the ridiculous concept of individualism to crumble and yet we get stuck in egocentric logic because of how it is forced into every facet of our lives and so social infrastructure.
Unquestioning belief in these made-up hierarchies is a source of endless suffering not just at the macro, systemic scale but a source of intense shame, distress & anguish at the micro, personal scale. We judge others just as harshly as we judge ourselves. Capitalist exploitation & enforcement of hierarchies through coercion is killing us but the other less obvious insidious result of this oppression is how we’re manipulated into being emotionally invested in the eternal pursuit of a spot at the top of the ladder. We internalize the values of the empire and perceive them as our own. Hell some people even champion them! The horrors of hustle and grind culture are truly endless and also heartbreaking.
I think about it now and beat myself up for not seeing how plainly unjust and oppressive our hierarchical societies are. How did I not see this for so long? Or the more scary question may be, how the hell did I aspire to climb the ladder at some point to get to “the top” in whatever niche of society I had access to? (Hint: Oppression, desperation, brainwashing, systemic abuse/ manipulation) How did I not realize early on that aspiring to success in capitalist systems actually meant that I was secretly hoping others would be “below” me? Again, hierarchies, individualism, binaries, competition, etc is all I ever knew which means it wasn’t going to be seamless to break away from that conditioning. In many cases, we don’t have immediate, short-term alternatives when we’re faced with violent consequences. Most of us work because if we don’t we will die without being able to “afford” food, water, shelter, healthcare. We pay taxes because we fear state violence. Similarly, we may take on the values of the capitalist state as our own because it can be difficult and terrifying for us to make sense of the world around us outside binaries of good/bad, strong/weak, superior/inferior. Sometimes, we may not have a choice but to participate in hierarchies but many times we do and the more times we choose to not allow these values of oppression to define us, the more spaces we create for all of us to choose differently.
No, humans are not “the virus” & it’s important to focus on the systemic roots of ecological destruction
Eco-fascism was front and center during the pandemic with many people claiming that global devastation from COVID-19 was the planet’s revenge against all of humanity, a purge of sorts that will “cleanse” Earth of all its “impurities”. These ideologies are a result of neoliberal and right-wing co-optation of environmental discourse to pedal fascist, totalitarian, white supremacist fantasies of “purity”. COVID-19 hit poor, marginalized, Black and Brown communities, particularly in the Global South, the hardest because that is the outcome of any disaster in a world with deep-seated inequities. When disease ripple through our communities, they kill people who are marginalized the most, brutalized the most by state violence, most deprived of access to basic resources— not just in the present, but across generations. I talk a lot about identifying the systemic roots of our problems- from our mental distress to the climate crisis- because blaming problems on individuals is what oppressive systems want us to do. Individualizing problems maintains the status quo and prevents any real change. However, oppressive systems like capitalism & the state are designed for 1% of people to dominate over 99% of people and all of nature. At what cost?
Applying human hierarchies to non-human life forms makes their destruction more apparent
A big part of my life is dedicated to understanding single cells- microbes that were the earliest life forms on this planet and all our ancestors that are still resiliently here, co-evolving with all life forms. The nation state is a hierarchical system and monolithic entity that uses policing, legislation and violent coercion to concentrate power in the hands of a few, deprive people of free will/ sovereignty/ autonomy, forcefully homogenize communities and monopolize all human activity. Now microbes for example have survive this long through sharing of resources, lack of hierarchies or binaries, preservation of extensive diversity and cooperation with all life forms. If we imagine microbes organizing themselves according to the “order” of the capitalist state where some cells monopolize power and resource to regulate and dominate the majority, it’s actually clear what the outcome will be for that microbial community- extinction. There is no survival without mutual aid, interdependence and cooperation. The reason it’s easier to understand these outcomes with microbes is because they have grow and replicate fast— so we can see things that we’d experience over centuries play out in microbial communities over days. Time is set to a different scale for each life form depending on their context. Yet, because our pain is drawn out over decade, we miss the “big picture”. For example, our needs are not hierarchical even though Maslow used colonial, hierarchical logic to appropriate Indigenous Blackfoot nation’s ideas on community needs. If we don’t have food or water, we die fast and if we don’t have community, we die a long, painful, lonely death. What makes one better than the other? Nothing.
Valuing animals, plants & microbes not because they are useful to us or similar to us but because they exist
Capitalism and the state objectify all of nature including humans. Plants, animals, microbes, everyone, are reduced to “resources” that could be extracted for a few humans to profit. This simple systemic framework shapes many social norms. Even the moral superiority complex that defines white, colonial, veganism for example becomes about framing animals as worthy of dignity because of their proximity to human sentience which frames plants and other life forms as innately inferior. As in framing anything through hierarchies won’t work. Because by that logic, there is no critical thought put to interrogate the exploitation of plants, microbes, all of land/ water by capitalist systems that prioritize endless extraction for endless profit accumulation which includes the vegan corporate industry which is built on slave labor in the Global South. It erases the injustice plants experience when diversity in their communities is wiped out because capitalist factory farms enforce monocultures to avoid putting in more effort to sustaining diversity. It erases the injustice microbes experience when urbanization, deforestation, corporation-mediated carbon consumption all create extreme environmental stressors that disrupt their ecological niches in ways we cannot even fathom but can feel the impact of with pandemics and constantly emerging new infectious diseases. I’m working on a collaborative newsletter with Poor Proles Almanac to further break down how veganism without intersectional, anti-capitalist, anarchist praxis is just neocolonialism (so won’t get into that here). But this is all to say that many indigenous, black, brown communities (including those that consume meat just like they consume you know plants or microbes) emphasize social interaction with non-human life forms and all components of our ecosystem like the soil or bodies of water. We foster social and ethical relationships because it creates a deep sense of responsibility to honor each other. We take care of our land because we love it. We sow seeds and try to understand how native plants can be raised and foraged because we love them. While surviving by consuming other life forms, we see that we have an ethical responsibility to love them and care for them too without projecting man-made reductive binaries of good/ bad onto nature.
As we grow up, we’re conditioned by capitalist power structures with individualistic values because those are integral in ensuring we grow up to be “ideal workers” and also do not realize our true nature as a collectivist species. If we realized, we can rely on each other in community & only sustain ourselves by building reciprocal relationships with each other- we’d be less easy to exploit.
How can we in practice build relationships and feedback loops with non-human parts of nature?
We don’t have to arbitrarily assess the worth of other life forms based on their perceived proximity to us. This is the logic of capitalism that tries to assign a dollar sign “net worth” to humans based on their arbitrary productivity (or utility to the rich). We don’t even have to understand all natural processes that occur on our planet to dismantle hierarchies. We value life because it exists and know that our health is tied to the health of all components of our ecosystems. Plants, animals, microbes & all non-human living beings are not beneath us, they are our collaborators that mobilize alongside us and are also fighting to restore ecological balance and prevent ecological collapse. In “Stomping with the elephants: feminist principles for radical solidarity’ (2006) and ‘Free as a bird: natural anarchism in action’ (2009), Jones describes plants and animals as ‘natural anarchists, sentient beings who neither recognize nor accede to the rules devised by governments’.
We did not invent anarchy even if we’ve constructed a political framework by observing the world around us because it exists in nature, everywhere, all the time, before even humans existed.
All life forms are autonomous, complex, intelligent, sentient. The most powerful way to resist oppression is to dismantle it in our daily lives and relationships. This includes how we perceive non-human life forms. We need to reconnect with our ancestral, cultural roots and decolonize our ways of being by intentionally cultivating practices and rituals to connect with plants, animals, soil, rocks, fungi, insects, water, air, etc. For centuries, our ancestors have cultivated these practices out of their love and commitment to us and colonialism may have attempted to strip us of these roots but it cannot severe our ties entirely because they are a part of us. Consciously approaching nature by acknowledging its inherent value changes everything about how we exist and the activities we participate in. We shouldn’t spend time “in nature” to unplug with the intention of rejuvenating to be more productive and “succeed” at work. We shouldn’t have plants for purely decorative, performative, selfish purposes because we follow trends or we think it will look good. Intention is everything because if done right, it shapes action. Given our innate interconnectedness, it creates transformative ripples of change.
I study microbes because I am in constant awe at their ingenuity, cooperation, resilience, complexity- it is so clear that they possess traits we can only dream of. Their mere existence for millennia is a testament to the fact that they are not “below” us. I also work to care for humans in context of diseases caused by microbes. In that realm of medicine, it is clear that human systems of domination, exploitation and extraction have produced severe inequities that have disrupted the balance of ecosystems. The bacteria causing an infection isn’t “bad”, what’s bad is most of our patients do not have access to basic resources to preserve their health. What is “bad” is that none of us have guaranteed access to food, water, shelter and community- which manifests as infectious diseases burdening the most marginalized. Nature is neutral— we may project positive or negative connotations onto it but it is complex and we will never comprehend it fully but we can respect all parts of it. My pursuit to understand how microbial communities work is one way I’ve dismantled hierarchies while intentionally trying to establish a relationship with microbes. I don’t just want to make infectious diseases disappear or understand them to exploit them for human gain but I want to understand them because they’re pretty fucking cool. They’re here and that is enough for them to be valuable and worthy of respect & dignity and that changes everything about how I approach patient care, research, education/ training, and ultimately is a big part of the foundation I’m working on building (like many) for abolitionist, decolonized medicine/ science.
When I say “community”, I don’t just mean other humans. I mean every living entity- plants, animals, microbes & all components of our ecosystems. When we talk about collectivism, we don’t just mean caring about each other today but also learning from those that came before us & acting with those that come after us in mind.
I believe it is fundamentally impossible for us to truly thrive without valuing the communal relationships that transcend the boundaries of time & space— we might not understand everything about how it works but the love, compassion, work put in to build traditions is what is helping us cope with oppression now & it helped them survive their pain as best as they could. Community building is building relationships in the broadest sense— across time, space, species (without boundaries). Most importantly, these ties already exist. As in, we are already connected whether we are aware of it or not, so we might as well intentionally cultivate ecological relationships to build solidarity with our non-human kin.
B & I will cover some cool examples of anarchy in nature in the Part II of our Anarchy & Ecology series. Besides that, I’d like to create space to share more about what we can learn from microbes as part of political praxis. Are there aspects of the microbial world you’d like me to delve into in future newsletters? Is there anything you’re curious about or worried about or interested in related to germs, bugs, pathogens, commensal microbes?
With regards to more on microbes, I would love to know more about the conditions that caused COVID-19 to come about, if that’s something you’d be interested in writing about.
This is one of your best pieces. I have been learning about microbes from a kids book I have been reading to my four year old. I problematised the book when it started referring to some microbes as ‘bad’. I first came across this alternate perspective in John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars when one of the characters says ‘cancer is not bad. It just wants to exist’. Or words to that effect.